Although the long-term process of breaking down the barriers that contribute to our harshly dichotomous views has just recently begun, an ongoing process is undoubtedly better than a nonexistent one.
As this process has taken shape, increased social awareness and the propagation of personal narratives have proven to be the best instigators of change.
I hope to contribute to this change, focusing not on one of the aforementioned dichotomies (mostly because they get a fair bit of public coverage already), but rather, on the highly pervasive belief that intellectualism and Corporate America are mutually exclusive (mostly because it is rarely challenged in the open).
No, the dichotomy that I will be discussing is not on the same level as those concerning sex, sexuality, race, etc. in terms of their histories and consequences.
I fully recognize this. However, the false belief that Corporate America is a place where intellectualism goes to die, though largely invalid, is just as widely-held and socially-relevant as the other named dichotomies.
Considering that thousands of college students nationwide are deep into their job hunts, either for full-time employment or internship experience, this conversation holds particular timeliness.
For those who are intellectually-driven and anxiously torn between the academic and corporate worlds, it carries additional weight.
The good news is that one does not need to actually choose between worlds. Corporate America is not the intellectual graveyard that we so quickly describe it as being.
Granted, it is certainly not the academic world, Corporate America does not exist without academic minds and activities. Yes, many parts of it are rather intellectually vacuous. However, other parts of it are almost entirely driven by intellectual rigor.
To provide some context, I was formerly (and in many ways still am) an intellectually-driven person, anxiously torn between the academic and corporate worlds.
I was the most astute of undergraduate students, consistently qualifying for the Dean’s List and eventually graduating with the highest honors from my Ivy League institution.
I studied biology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies formally, and I explored dozens of other disciplines informally. I was a nerd. I loved learning. I still am, and I still do.
For this reason, I feared senior year and its implications regarding next steps. I wanted to matriculate directly into a PhD program, but the romantic luster of being a broke student had grown somewhat tarnished over time.
Knowing that I needed to work and accumulate some capital before entering graduate school, I contemplated a wide range of employment options.
When I ultimately decided to accept a management consulting position, one that would entail not only working in Corporate America but also essentially providing help to major corporate entities, I was consistently greeted with judgment and/or criticism.
To be honest, I, too, often greeted myself with both of these things. I was apparently a sell-out, sacrificing my intellectual potential to become a mindless droid. I was bound to change and to lose.
I guess that I am still waiting to become that sacrificial lamb that so many of my peers, mentors and supporters gave warning of.
After half a year of working and almost a year away from school, I feel that little has changed in terms of my intellectualism. I have found tremendous academic resources at my job, in both the individuals and the work itself.
I have peers who will sacrifice their lunch break and run to the New York Museum of Modern Art in order to more intelligently discuss contemporary feminism in art, and I have responsibilities that involve researching, analyzing and writing to a degree that rivals my past thesis work.
All of this goes to say that, while the flavor might be quite a bit different, the delicious world of intellectualism certainly exists in parts of Corporate America.
To all of those individuals who are fearful about the future and the choice between intellectual exploration and corporate employment, take a deep breath and realize that on this occasion, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
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